Beautiful Cinque Terre

I’m going to jump ahead (will write about  Pisa and Florence in a later entry hopefully) to a day I had been looking forward to very very much – visiting the famed Cinque Terre.

We were treated to a beautiful view of the bay as we headed to Cinque Terre. On the way  our tour guide discussed the issues facing this unique area. While to a visitor it looks exotic and romantic, this is not a life that has appealed to the young of the villages. Toiling on vertical cliffs in harsh conditions to produce the wine and produce of the region has not been appealing to the majority of the young people and many of the vineyards struggle to find workers. Yet there is some good news as the trend towards locally produced and sustainable produce has started to bring new life back into ancient cottage industries.

Obviously tourism is a huge part of the local economy and this has lead to many discussion on how to protect this fragile area. The Italian government are looking at restricting the numbers of people who can visit each year in an effort to cut down the 2.5 million annual tourists. It is a difficult problem as obviously everyone wants to come here and the tourist dollar injects vital life into the economy, but it almost impossible for the locals to go about their daily lives. 

We spent some time in the exquisite  Manarola and then travelled to Monteroso by ferry so didn’t get to stop at the middle villages but we could see the crowds of people at each one. Lots of people swimming which was frustrating as we didn’t have any swimming gear with us! The ferry was very hot and overcrowded but we managed to get a seat in the sea breeze on the upper deck and enjoy. The spectacular views.

On arrival in Monteroso we were left to our own devices for lunch and we found a tiny restaurant where they cooked delicious seafood in a compact open kitchen. Beautiful scampi risotto still sizzling as it arrived at the table. Then we wandered round the medieval square a bit, rolled up our shorts and paddled in the ocean. It was warm, crystal clear and incredibly salty. Sadly time was up way to soon and we had to head to the train to get back to our coach.

Photos below are a hodge pudge of the day, hope they give some sense of how special this part of the world is.










Tuscan meanderings

I’m quite behind in keeping up to date with everything we have been doing so will do a few mainly photographic entries in an attempt to catch up. This is the downside of packing so much into a holiday! 

The beautiful town of Assisi, home of St Francis was our next stop. As in the Sistine Chapel  there was no photography allowed inside. Instead we walked, marvelled, and listened to our guide tell the story of an amazing man whose Christian walk is as powerful and challenging today as it must have been all those centuries ago. There is something that lifts the soul as you wander this ancient hilltop city, a sense of the continuity of the family of faith.





Then an overnight stay in the beautiful town of Perugia. We decided to skip the organised tour of the town and had a peaceful evening watching the sunset while enjoying cocktails.




One of my favorite places so far has been our next stop, the hilltop town of San Gigminano. Just ancient and beautiful. I can’t explain how content it makes me feel to spend time visiting these towns, wandering these cobblestone streets and seeing the sun-soaked buildings. Coming from such a young country it’s as though I have been starved for this feeling of history and antiquity. We only had an afternoon but had plenty of time to sit in the sun, eat wild boar ragu and smooth creamy gelato. 







From Pompeii to Capri

A sensory overload already and we have only been here a few days. 

Early start onto the coach that will become very familiar over the next little while.

First stop Pompeii. A stunning day with Vesuvius looking peaceful and benign. Impossible to imagine it smoking and roaring. Today several million people live in neighboring Naples and more than 600 000 on its slopes. The trade-off for beautiful fertile soil is the possibility of another eruption. Not sure I could do it, but when the inhabitants of the region were offered relocation  in 2003 , very few people took up the offer. 

Today fortunately it slumbered on as we walked the streets of Pompeii. Theatres, shops, brothels, houses, public baths, a bustling city silenced forever; now full of curious tourists bringing an odd new life to the streets. Most of the heartbreaking plaster reconstructions of the bodies are out on loan but we did see one desperate frozen figure, head forever buried in his arms. Only too easy to imagine the terror he must have felt. 



Feeling fairly somber we headed to catch the ferry to Capri. A world apart from the tomb of Pompeii, the wharf at Capri was packed beyond belief with sunburnt and  over-tired holiday-makers returning home (some issue with the boats not sailing due to the weather, and no idea of on the part of the officials as to how to solve the ensuing chaos). Pushing our way through the crowds, in genuine danger of being pushed into the water, we clambered with relief into our open air taxi.



My own relief was short-lived when I realised we were heading up to Ana Capri, over the crazily high viaduct ( you can just make it out in the photo below, taken as I muttered ‘you have got to be joking’). Wayne reassuring me I would be fine, I reluctantly got in the car, feeling sick to my stomach.I don’t have any control over when my vertigo will strike (although I can pick when it might happen) it’s quite like a panic attack and very scary.  Fortunately for me the adrenaline rush won over vertigo. If we had stopped anywhere on the mountain I would however have been a quivering mess! Hopefully the hurriedly snapped shot and the video below give a little idea of the trip we would end up making several times up and down the road. 
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Our hotel was beautiful (arriving in one piece was a bonus) and it was a delight to jump into the swimming pool – the first of our entire trip! Gorgeous views out over to the mainland.

Capri itself was a chaotic and beautiful mix of crowds, traffic insanity, sophistication and style. Scooters, buses, three-wheeled trucks, cyclists and pedestrians all competing for the same spot on roads designed for a much less busy time.  Super yachts thrown casually into ocean moorings, designer labels sold from tiny ancient shops – I expected to see models and movie stars round every corner. We were enchanted and vaguely bemused and decided we couldn’t  imagine living here.

 Over the course of our two days we explored the island, avoided getting run over, did some shopping, ate gelato and wandered around in the rain. The sea around Capri is a combination of the most beautiful shades of blue that I could not get enough of as we enjoyed a cruise around some of the grottos and the Faraglioni despite the weather packing in. 



Then up the hill on the funicular for more spectacular vistas.



I even managed to stand right up against the railings (briefly) when we visited the Gardens of Caesar Augustus. As you can see by my smile, today was a victory over vertigo! Might seem like a small thing but I’ve had to stare down vertigo a few times this trip. The alternative is to stay down at the bottom of these climbs and miss the view, and I am determined to not resort to that!

All too soon we were throwing our bags back on the ferry and farewelling this enchanting island. Once back on dry land we were soon heading up to Umbria.